The New Political Realism: Resisting Inappropriate Transparency Demands

This piece, from a few days ago in the Washington Post, puts FBI Director Jim Comey’s real-time updates of the Clinton investigation into a broader framework involving the ever-increasing demands for greater governmental transparency.  Leaving aside the provocative title of the piece, the essay raises the right questions about the tradeoffs between transparency and other democratic values:

But the underlying story is not just about Comey or the FBI. Instead, it is about the perverse consequences of government transparency, and the fraught relationship between national security and the demands of democracy. . .

The public may now expect to have access to current intelligence and ongoing legal assessments. The desire for openness from government officials is understandable, of course. Transparency is the only way we can hold executive agencies accountable. However, the Comey saga is a stark and troubling reminder that transparency has a price. The more law enforcement and intelligence officials reveal about their ongoing activities, the greater the risk of unintended consequences….

Secrecy and democracy coexist uneasily. Too much secrecy can lead to inefficiency and government abuse. The events of the last month, however, highlight how transparency can lead to politicization and government dysfunction.


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